This post is for anyone who is good at managing their time but somehow still lets tasks slip through the net. It’s for the people with organised diaries and overdue tasks. It’s for those of you asking yourself how, after planning your day perfectly, you ended up getting so little done?
You are not alone
There are levels of productivity. Before last year, I never managed my time well. I didn’t make revision plans, I didn’t keep a diary for appointments and lists weren’t my thing.
I got through university like this pretty well, but it wasn’t enough when it came to my first job. I suddenly had a lot more things to do and a lot less time in which to do them. Structure became essential and I moved to a higher level of productivity.
Now, I use the Outlook calendar for appointments, and that syncs with my phone so I can see what the next meeting is by looking at my lock screen. I also use Todoist which, I am not ashamed to admit, runs my entire life.
It’s fair to say that I am now quite good at time management. And yet, despite my deadlines and to-do lists and lock screen reminders, I still have projects that get left behind.
The trick to productivity
I couldn’t identify what I was doing wrong until I watched Tim Urban’s TED Talk, Inside the mind of a master procrastinator.
See, the real trick to productivity is more than good time management – it’s ‘me’ management. It’s having emotional discipline.
I always knew I was a procrastinator. My talent for avoiding tasks developed much faster than my ability to lie to myself about it. When you work from home it becomes much easier to procrastinate. Here’s a list of the things I’ve done since starting to write this post:
- Given up and moved the project to the following day’s to-do list
- Watched a YouTube video about movie plot holes
- Took a break for lunch
- Filled my water bottle up twice and, consequently, taken excessive bathroom breaks
It is understood among psychologists that we procrastinate because we don’t have a strong emotional connection with our future self. We don’t want to work now so we put the task off without considering the consequences it will have for future us – the version of ourselves that has to do the work with a tight deadline and a side order of stress.
How to manage yourself
‘Behavioral scientists are learning that how you think about the “future you” can influence your decisions and behavior in the present,’ says Alice G. Walton.
While we still neglect our future selves by not having a savings account or paying in to pensions etc, we do consider our future happiness in the long term. We work long hours this year to save for a holiday next year. We exercise today to be fit when we’re older.
But how can we replicate this in the short term? For starters, next time you think about putting off a task, ask yourself these two questions:
- Will my future self have more information about this task than I currently have? For example, if you’re waiting on a brief or an interview.
- Do you have more pressing things to work on today? (And no, organising your inbox doesn’t count.)
If the answer to these questions is no – don’t put off the task. Present-day you is not always going to be in the mood to do the work at hand. Future you might not be in the mood, either, but they can’t say no. The reality is that it doesn’t matter whether you want to do the work. It needs to be done.
It’s time to cut your future self some slack and get the job done today.
Or, you know, maybe tomorrow, no rush.
(Hat tip to Slow Robot for the image)